If you’ve been a fan of one team long enough, you’ve been where I and countless unlucky others are right now.
LoserTown. That place where self-pity-laced-with-hope finally gives way to the practical knowledge that your team sucks and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, at least not this season.
Your GM is spending his days with a Sharpie putting prices on those dot stickers, garage door up, SALE sign on the corner with an arrow directing passersby to your house on GolfingInApril Lane.
If you’re lucky, the price dots are only on the guys you who just disappointed you anyway. You’re hoping teams will gamble on a “change of scenery” boost for the player, or perhaps the proverbial “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” factors in and it will be an easy, amicable parting.
If you’re not so lucky, your best player – your finest china – is propped up for display, granted with a higher price tag that most want to pay, but still. It feels like you’re offering up a limb, he’s such a fixture for your team.
You side-eye, enviously, those fans whose teams are tearing it up. “Here but for the grace of the hockey gods go you, New York Rangers,” you think. You wonder if you can muster up some memory of what it felt like back in the good ol’ days when your team didn’t lose literally weeks of games at a time.
Even the teams on the bubble, the LA Kings of the world. One piece away, I kept hearing analysts say on the radio the other day. Classic buyer scenario. Lucky bastards. What I wouldn’t give to be one piece away, but sometimes it feels like we’re an entire pulse away.
Before every Wild game, my friend Nick introduces himself on Twitter to the Minnesota Wild Support Group. “Hi Nick,” I think, and imagine all of us in kid-sized, orange plastic chairs, parked in a circle in the linoleum-floored rec room of the local Methodist church.
We know we’re going to lose tonight, but it’s absolutely true that misery loves company, so we make jokes and we call out players and we hate on Marek Zidlicky. It’s less awful than watching in a vacuum.
Sometimes, rarely, they get a lead in a game and we feel like jerks for our certainly about the loss and for being such Debbie Downers. But then they end up losing and at least we have our vindication to keep us warm.
I think this is why I watch Buffalo Sabres games every chance I get, too. I even laugh at myself as I do it, because it doesn’t matter what other thrilling match-ups are on. Bruins v. Habs? Nah, I’ll watch the Florida Panthers beat up the Sabres, thanks.
If anything, with their coach and GM on the hot seat, they seem even more hopeless than my team, which in turn gives me hope. I get to peek into their rabbit hole and see that it’s even deeper, and I’m grateful that at least I can imagine I know where the bottom of mine is.
Sometimes, I won’t lie, I think about other teams – what it would be like to just walk away and become a Stars fan. They’re in Texas, I’ve tossed my bra at their goalie, so it’s not a crazy leap (in fact, if memory serves, that very thing has been done before).
I think about things like, if there were an eHarmony for sports teams and fans to find love with one another, what would my personal ad say?
Wanted: Established team with successful early-round drafting record. Must be +6 or above in team attractiveness. Must not have Cody McLeod or Martin Havlat on the roster. Knowledgeable fan base. Must have Western Conference AHL team.
Eventually, though, I catch a thread of reality again and realize it would be shameful to give up on a team whose logo fills my closet. And really, isn’t the very essence of being a fan that you submit yourself to the going getting rough?
It’s easy to be a fan of a team that’s always good, or even frequently good and very attractive. It’s easy to say, “Life is too short to be this miserable about a stupid hockey team,” and then pick a less stupid hockey team that doesn’t make you as miserable.
What’s hard is letting the misery in and living with it. Embracing it, even. Finding odd pleasure in it.
I mean, unless you’ve got psychological issues, you can’t really stay mad all the time, can you? You have to find humor in it, or at least peace with it.
I’m at the point now where the ethereal pleasure of a rare win is quickly replaced by the reminder that in a day or two, they will lose again. And this time, it will hurt a little more simply because this win injected, subconsciously, a foolish glimmer of hope.
Losing, on the other hand, is comfortable and familiar and expected. It can’t get worse, which is sort of a relief.
Even the players have gotten philosophical. On Friday, Pioneer Press beat writer Ben Goessling posted this on his blog from Wild forward Nick Johnson about Thursday’s tough loss to Winnipeg:
“I don’t think we really care any more. We don’t have a whole lot to lose. I don’t think we had a lot to lose at the start of the year, and then we thought we did,” Johnson said. “We’re just taking every day like it’s going well. Everyone’s happy. I think it’s coming along. You think, ‘Well, we didn’t get the extra point tonight, we’re out of the playoffs.’ What’s the point in that?”
So, my brothers and sisters of the basement –you Jackets and Sabres and Wild and Oilers and so on – in just a couple of months, we’ll only have our adopted, nay, foster playoff teams to cheer for, and after that, no hockey at all.
Let’s agree to refuse to spend the remaining weeks of hockey crying in my beer at yet another lost season. Let’s resolve to find pleasure in the good shifts and comedy in the bad shifts. I, for one, will not scowl at the Wild jerseys in the hall closet when I get the vacuum out, though this also means I may not vacuum very often.
We willingly suffer the interminable losing, because we can always take some deep breaths, find our “center,” and get perspective on rooting for a bad team.
But when the tide changes and the team is easy to love again, you can’t fake the knowledge that you stuck it out, and that’s true enlightenment as a fan.